EVERETT — Detectives are sifting through dozens of new tips in the 30-year-old murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, days after digital sketches of a suspect were released to the public.
The young couple from Vancouver Island vanished Nov. 18, 1987, about 180 miles into a road trip in a bronze Ford van. They traveled from Saanich, B.C., to Port Angeles, Hoodsport, Allyn, Bremerton and Seattle. Their bodies were found days later.
DNA helped experts at Parabon NanoLabs to build digital images of what the killer’s face might look like, including hair color, freckles and skin tone at ages 25, 45 and 65. The pictures were unveiled at a press conference Wednesday in Everett, with international media attention.
So far about 70 tips have come in, mostly from British Columbia and Washington, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. The county’s cold-case detective, Jim Scharf, hopes to find something that links the face to a piece of evidence from the killings. Many tipsters said the digital pictures look like someone they knew, such as a grocery store worker — and that’s hard to work with.
“If all that’s being circulated is the pictures, it’s not as helpful as circulating the information about what the suspect possessed and what he took from the victims,” Scharf said. “If we can get an association with the locations of where things happened, or what was taken from the victims, those are going to be better leads.”
Before their bodies were found, the last clue pointing to the couple’s whereabouts was a Bremerton-Seattle ferry ticket stamped 10:16 p.m. Nov. 18, 1987. They might have spent the night in the van outside Gensco in the SoDo District, where Cook planned to pick up furnace parts in the morning. But he never showed up.
Six days later, Van Cuylenborg was discovered dead off a rural road south of Alger, in Skagit County. She had been raped and shot in the head with a .380-caliber pistol. She was 18.
Two more days passed before Cook’s body was found under a bridge near Monroe. He was beaten with a rock, strangled with twine, and covered with a blue blanket that didn’t belong to him. He was 20.
The Seattle ferry ticket was inside their abandoned 1977 Ford van in downtown Bellingham. Missing were Cook’s green canvas backpack, his black ski jacket and a Minolta X-700 camera. In 1990, the camera lens was recovered at a pawn shop in Portland, but the camera body was never found. It had the serial number 2067048. If the missing items are found, they could be traced to the suspect.
A man’s DNA was found in the van and on Van Cuylenborg’s body. It was used to generate the pictures that were released this week.
Scharf is chasing down another lead, based on a tip that came in years ago. He’s looking to talk with any of thousands of employees of E.A. Nord Door in Everett in 1974. This week Scharf has talked with a few of them, but none were able to give helpful information.
“That could be another needle in the haystack,” Scharf said.
The victims’ families are offering a reward of $50,000 Canadian for a tip leading to the killer. The reward expires Dec. 31. Scharf wonders if the murderer might be in a relationship with someone who suspects something. The reward, he said, could be the thing that pushes her to finally come forward.
“That’s a substantial amount of money that can help a woman start over, if she wants to get out of that relationship,” Scharf said. “So if she knows something, she can get this case resolved pretty quickly, and get her life restarted safely.”
Tips can be directed to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office at 425-388-3845.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.